Thursday, May 25, 2017

My Sacred Place

            Last week I received a poem from a poet friend, suggesting that everyone should have a secret place, a place to be alone for renewal, reflection, and recharge, for counting one's blessings, he says, instead of curses. He suggests some possibilities: "a hidden waterfall/a garden corner/a favorite walk/a mini shrine in a bedroom." "It's personal," he says, "not advertised, no chorus girls, no signage," and he suggests that it might include "a photograph/a sea shell from that day/a broken toy/a lock of hair."
            I like his poem a lot, but reading it makes me anxious. As a person who likes to think of herself as the sort of person the poem suggests, I must, therefore, have a secret and sacred place, but where is it? Is it my writing nook,
 where I sit at my computer, alternately gazing at the mountain and putting thoughts on paper? That is a way of reflecting and recharging, but the writing nook is also by definition a work space, which, by definition, doesn't sound sacred.
            Maybe my sacred space is the couch, where I sit to gaze on the mountain and reflect while I knit and where I renew my intellect with the New Yorker or the latest book I'm reading. 
 But there doesn't seem to be anything sacred or secret about a couch against a wall in an open room, and if I am sometimes contemplative while I knit there, at other times I'm learning the hard lessons of patience as I undo my mistakes. There is no photograph near the couch; all my seashells are in the bathroom, and the rocks, bones, and pieces of wood I've gathered over the years are scattered throughout the house, so there is no meditative focus, except that I do keep a coffee-table book of flower photographs on the table at the side of the couch, turning a page once a day, so that, as I walk by the table, I stop for a moment to admire the photograph that has caught my eye. That's hardly a meditation, just a quick moment of admiration.
            Because the couch lacks privacy, it seems more reasonable to think my sacred space is my bed. Sleep is renewal, and when I awake every morning and gaze at the mountain, I am always, always counting my blessings,
 though it seems a cheat to call the bed a sacred space, since I'm there by necessity, sort of like saying my sacred space is the bathtub. We go to bed to sleep and we bathe to get clean, although rest and renewal and also reflection come with those activities, at least for me.
            The fainting couch in the library might seem like a secret place, except that I don't use it that way.

I don't go there deliberately to renew but only when I need a book from the library or wander into the library just to enjoy looking at my books. This place only looks like a meditative spot. It doesn't function that way, sort of the way the bed looks like a functional space but functions like a meditative space.
            I do have a favorite walk, up the mountain. I also know of a secret waterfall I can walk to from my house, but it's hard to get to, and although I certainly consider it sacred (all nature is sacred), I don't go there very often, and either walk, like the bed and the bathtub, is functional with the side effect of meditation.
            So where is my sacred place? If I am that sort of person, I must have one.
            I do. It is big and spacious, not the sort of exclusive place indicated by the poem, but, still, my place of meditation, renewal, reflection. It is my home, inside and out, here on the mountain – all the places I mentioned above, its zen garden with canvas-back chairs, its deck with its flower boxes, its garden with take-a-rest chairs, and, from everywhere, its view of the mountain. It is not advertised, and there are no chorus girls, but its signage speaks truth: "Wonderland": where wonder fills the psyche and gratitude spreads bright wings.
Sacred Place
by Andy Anderson

Everyone should have 
a secret place
a sacred place 
to be alone undisturbed
a meditative moment 
or fasting for days.
a special place to recharge 
count one's blessings 
instead of curses.  
Be it a hidden waterfall 
a garden corner 
a favorite walk
a mini shrine in a bedroom.  
It’s personal 
not advertised 
no chorus girls 
no signage.  
My place.  
Your place.  
Don’t mess with it 
or with my ancestors.  
Perhaps a photograph 
a sea shell from that day
a broken toy
a lock of hair 
or nothing 
just space to be in 
a simple shack 
a cathedral
a sacred place.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Trip to Atlanta

            I had a wonderful visit with my siblings in Atlanta a few weeks ago. 
Laura, me, Sharon, Lee

We laughed a lot, as only we can do and only with each other. We watched a pastiche of Coogle family home movies, ourselves as babies and children, our parents so young and active and, as we acknowledged to each other, so playful with us when we were children. We had a pizza party with Laura's daughter and grandchildren on Laura's patio, where she has a wood-burning pizza oven that she loves to bake in. We drew names of Kentucky Derby horses from a hat for a dollar each, then watched the race, mint juleps in hand, with great excitement. We played croquet. We spent a night at Laura's lake house where we took walks and had lunch on the dock and I had a swim and my sister Sharon, who traveled in southeast Asia this winter, made us a great Asian dinner. The four of us enjoyed hours together working a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, which we exultantly completed. 
Lee isn't pictured because he's taking the picture.

            One evening while we were working the puzzle, my sister Laura left Sharon, Lee, and me to fit pieces together while she played the piano in the other room.
            She has been playing for years but has recently been taking lessons again. She can play very difficult pieces. I remember some Chopin that she played last year. She was very competent with the keys. She could crash-bang her way through those difficult pieces with alacrity. 
            This time was different. This time when she played, music poured forth. The listener didn't think, "How impressive she is!" but "What a beautiful piece of music." She was playing Mozart's Sonata Number 5 that evening, a piece I didn't know but which I found delightful. I loved its minor-key truthfulness, its refrain that sounded like, "Ha-ha, ha-ha." I thoroughly enjoyed listening. It was beautiful.
            Laura had found the essence of the music in the pieces she was playing. She said her teacher told her she had to learn to relax her hands, so she spent days of practice with her hands hovering over the keys, willing them to relax. And when they did, suddenly what she was playing was music. Somewhere between her fingers and the keys of the piano, she had found that essential quality. Instead of making music, her hands were following the music, as though it were somewhere invisible until her hands found it and made it visible, not molding it into shape like a sculptor but stroking and caressing an existent, constantly flowing sculpture.
            I want to play the guitar like that, but I can't find the music. Where is it? Is it in my hand, which my guitar teacher also told me to relax? Is it in the fingernails, that have to be just this long and no longer, just this shape, just this smoothness, and without all that there is no music? Is it in the notes on the page? Is it in the accent, the dynamics, the rhythm? Is it in the guitar itself? Is it in the stroke of the fingernails on the strings? Where is the music? I am still crash-banging my way through my pieces, and I do so want to find the music. My teacher can pick up my own guitar and play the same notes I play, and when he does, there is music, so I know music lurks in my guitar, waiting to be freed. I want to find it.
            So I take my guitar home, I file my nails, I set my music on my music stand, I tune the guitar, I will my hands to relax, I stroke the strings, and in my head I hear the music. Somewhere between my hands and the strings of the guitar there is music. I know it's there. Someday I will find it, and when I do, I will relax and sit back and listen as my hands follow the sculptured form of the music and bring it into the room.

Friday, May 12, 2017

My First Political Rally

            If there were ever a time to be politically active, that time would be now.
            After decades of cheering activists and supporting organizations like Planned Parenthood and ACLU and letting my years on the boards of the local and state Sierra Club be my political activism, I am stepping up my involvement. I've seen that numbers make a difference and that crowds grow one person after another. It was high time I walked down off my mountain and took part in a rally, to swell the numbers, to show the world (that part of it that was paying attention) how many people here in Southern Oregon feel, in this case, that it is important, even crucial, that we take action to rectify as much as we can the blame we bear for global warming.
            So I joined the climate march in Medford, Oregon, on Saturday.

          I had mistakenly thought it was a march for science, like marches in Washington, D.C., and other cities recently, so I made a sign that said, "My granddaughter wants to be a scientist." It wasn't inappropriate, though, for a march for the climate, and it generated many comments, especially from people who told me about their grandchildren who are scientists. 
         Other signs were more pertinent to the theme of the march: "Don't be a fossil fool." "Love wins." "Leave it in the earth." "No LNG pipeline." "There is no alternative planet." "If it's not fact, it's fiction." I was encouraged to see these signs and also by the large crowd gathered in the park – about 900 people, the paper said. 

The speeches were fairly generic except for the one by the high school junior, who talked about what it felt like to face such an unknown future as we are leaving her unless we take action to stop or at least to amend climate change. Speeches were translated, phrase by phrase, into Spanish and simultaneously into sign language, a generous gesture, but the dual language presentation doubled the time of the speeches. There was a Latino speaker and a Native American speaker, and there was a Latino dance performance. I wasn't sure of the point of all that, and I was surprised at the almost a-political focus of the rally. Trump and other perpetrators of climate crimes weren't mentioned.

              Then we marched through downtown Medford with our signs.
            The political chants petered out right at the beginning. There was very little traffic on the streets and no one walking around, so our march had little impact. There was no call to action by the speakers and no riling up of emotion over the issues. My first political rally felt low-key and fairly impotent except that the people who were there felt strongly about the importance of their positions and what they were doing to make things go right. I was glad to be among them. I'm glad the people I knew whom I saw there saw that I was there. I was glad that I stood up to be counted. I was glad to add my voice, my presence to the large numbers of people all over the country who are trying to prevent the disasters that Trump is trying to bring down on us all, from environmental to judicial, from immigrant-related to the economy, from international affairs to local effects.
            I'm glad my granddaughter wants to be a scientist. I want her world to be one in which she can be proud of that vocation. I'm glad we live in a country where each voice counts. I'm glad I stood up to be counted.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Kinds of Places We Choose to Live In

            When my friend told me he was thinking about building townhouses on a piece of property he owns, I blanched.
             I like my friend, but I loathe developers. I think sprawl is one of the worst of our environmental problems. I don't think we need an influx of people with all their cars crowding the roads, parking places paving over Paradise, and houses squeezed onto formerly "empty" lots (never mind their flora and fauna).
            Trying to be reasonable, though, I admitted the financial wisdom of building rentals as an investment in retirement funds, and I recognized the practicality of the townhouse design – two-story houses with front doors facing the street. But all attempts at fair-mindedness were defenestrated in the face of garages as big as the fronts of the houses.
            "Hide the garage!" I cried. "The front of the house should invite the visitor in, not just emphasize the importance of the car."
Emphasizing the importance of the car
            Considering my social-architectural theories, my friend pointed out that putting driveways in the back of the house would take up most of the back-yard space.
            "Well, that won't do, then," I said in a pout. "We live too much indoors. How can we begin to know more about nature if we don't provide places where people can be in nature, even if it's only a patch of weeds under a tree?" I ranted on: "Children, especially, need to be outdoors." My friend said there was a very good park only a few blocks down the road, with a playground and lots of open space, and I said that that was very good, but that nothing could take the place of a child being able to step out the door and play outside. If we are going to encourage children to know nature, I said, we have to provide them the opportunity.
            Adults, too, need that expansive sense of space that comes from the outdoors. Thoreau would take visitors to the pine woods behind his house, which he called his withdrawing room, so they could make conversation there. "You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port," he said. Thoughts bang into walls, no matter how big the house.
            My friend the potential developer pointed out that he had included an open space with his townhouses, I think by law, but I hooted at the postage-stamp size of this open space.
A small square of open space at a development in Grants Pass
These nods towards the outdoors don't contain the mysteries of nature that intrigue children – and adults. I had in mind, if not Thoreau's withdrawing room, then the sort of continual back yards of a neighborhood I had once seen in Atlanta, where all houses on two streets opened to a large common back yard with slopes and trees and ravines and all sorts of mysteries for children to explore and for the soul to contemplate. That wasn't possible here, but, still, I argued, we needed to make the common outdoor area larger.
            Well, said my friend the developer, if he built three houses instead of four, he could create more open space, but that would mean less income. I said maybe the larger open space would make his townhouses more attractive to buyers, so he could charge more for each one. It is of dubious truth, but surely there are other people who see the value of this kind of living space.
            My final point was trees. Where were the trees? The landscaper's plan included some hawthorn and other smallish trees here and there, "but," I said, reaching the ultimate in unreasonableness, "where are the 100-year-old trees to put swings on and for the children to climb into and test their strength on?"
            In the event, my friend decided not to be a developer. He sold the land instead, and, as usual, the new developer will jam in as many houses as legally possible, giving residents a postage stamp of grass for outdoor space, emphasizing garages, and planting spindly little trees that won't ever grow into mighty giants, and children won't be encouraged to be outdoors and adults won't know the benefits of nature in their lives. My attempts at creating a better society through better living spaces came to an unfruitful end. But, for a while, I tried hard.